January 22, 2008

The Rap on MRAPs

Hatched by Dafydd

Last Saturday, an attack on an "MRAP" (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle successfully destroyed the vehicle and killed one of the four occupants. But far from a slam, this very attack proves just how effective the MRAP truly is.

Important Note: Bill Roggio argues that, contrary to what the New York Times, AP, and other news sources claim, this was not the first combat death suffered by an occupant of an MRAP. I'll take the word of Roggio over that of the Times anyday; even so, the vehicles are a huge improvement over uparmored Humvees, Bradleys, or even Strykers.

The first point to notice about Saturday's IED attack is that the MRAP did its job well, protecting all those riders who were actually inside the secure area of the vehicle:

Three of the four people aboard suffered only broken feet and lacerations. Pending the results of an investigation, it is unclear yet whether the gunner was killed by the blast or by the vehicle rolling over.

But officers on the scene noted that he was the member of the crew most exposed, and that the vehicle’s secure inner compartment was not compromised and appeared to have done its job by protecting the three other crew members inside. “The crew compartment is intact,” said Capt. Michael Fritz. He said the blast would have been large enough “to take out” a heavily armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The AP story on the same incident is even more explicit about the success of the MRAP:

"That attack has not ... caused anyone to question the vehicle's lifesaving capacity," [Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff] Morrell said. "To the contrary, the attack reaffirms their survivability."

The soldier who died Saturday was the gunner who sits atop the MRAP vehicle. Morrell said it is still not clear whether he died as a result of the explosion or the rollover. And Maj. Alayne P. Conway, deputy spokeswoman for the 3rd Infantry Division, said the attack and the death are under investigation.

Morrell said the MRAP hit a "very large, deep-buried IED" and that the "force of the explosion blew the MRAP into the air and caused it to overturn." Despite the size of the explosion, he said, the crew compartment "was not compromised" and the three soldiers inside escaped with cuts and broken bones in their feet.

"I think everybody is still amazed at the fact that, despite the size of this bomb, these vehicles are proving to be every bit as strong and as lifesaving as we hoped they would be," said Morrell, adding that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is "more convinced than ever that these vehicles do indeed save lives."

Before we go further, let's give a little background: What is a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, an MRAP, anyway? Here is what I wrote back in May about the Cougar and the Buffalo, two MRAPs that were being acquired at the time:

Enter the MRAP: the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected class of vehicles. The Marines and the Army have more or less settled on the Couger H-series of MRAP and the Buffalo H-series of Mine Protected Route Clearance (MPCV) vehicles, both manufactured by Force Protection Inc... the latter being a somewhat larger version of the Cougar, equipped with a fork-toothed arm for explosive ordnance disposal (the Buffalo's nickname is "the Claw"):

Couger H-series MRAP    Buffalo H-series MPCV

Couger H-series MRAP (L) and Buffalo H-series MPCV (R)

The great innovation of the MRAP is to redesign the undercarriage itself... and to correct the flaw that made our earlier combat vehicles so vulnerable: their underbelly flatness. MRAPs have a V-shaped hull that channels blast effect to the sides of the vehicle, graphically demonstrated here. Even EFPs have trouble penetrating the undercarriage of an MRAP:

MRAP taking blast

MRAP taking blast; explosive force is redirected to sides of vehicle

Much more at the link, of course. I can't seem to find a single news story that tells us exactly what type of MRAP was destroyed; but Noah Shachtman at Wired Magazine reports that some of his readers have said it was actually a Maxxpro, made by Navistar International Corporation -- formerly International Harvester -- not by Force Protection; Shachtman's readers say that is the type of MRAP used by the 1st Battalion of the 30th IR:

MaxxPro MRAP

The MaxxPro MRAP, by Navistar International

Back to the Times:

Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, confirmed that the attack was “the first death resulting from an I.E.D. attack on an MRAP,” but said that he could not comment on specific damage to the vehicle “for force protection reasons.” [See important note above; the rear admiral appears to be misinformed.]

Admiral Smith said the new vehicle had proven “in its short time here in Iraq that it is a much improved vehicle in protecting troops from the effects of improvised explosive devices.”

“However,” he added, “there is no vehicle that can provide absolute protection of its occupants.”

This is not the first fatality, but there have been only a few; yet MRAPs have been hit by IEDs more than a dozen previous times, according to AP -- few of which have resulted in fatalities, even when the vehicle itself was totaled. It's hard to imagine either an uparmored Humvee or even a Bradley surviving so many attacks while allowing so few occupant deaths.

Far from debunking or deflating the MRAP story, this IED attack is likely to make the Marines (who are in charge of the MRAP program for all branches of the military) even more anxious to replace all "outside the wire" Humvees with Cougars, Cheetahs, Buffalos, and other MRAPs.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 22, 2008, at the time of 4:47 PM

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The following hissed in response by: MTF

According to this article, there have been only three other deaths. This problem is licked. The flu is moe dangerous now than IED's, even with shaped charges.

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2008 6:08 AM

The following hissed in response by: MTF

FWIW, here's the relevent part of the article (in case no one wants to read the whole thing):

The Cougar and a much larger Force Protection-built MRAP called the Buffalo have been attacked more than 3,000 times. There have been only three recorded American fatalities. In one case, a service member who was not wearing his seat belt was killed when the bomb exploded near the vehicle, according to Aldrich.

"It's like the unsinkable ship," he said. "There's no military vehicle in the world that's perfect. But we've got one that's 3,000 to three."

The above hissed in response by: MTF [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2008 10:41 AM

The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH

So, MRAP is bomb resistant? That explains how they survived so many performances.


The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 23, 2008 1:24 PM

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